What Are Rhetorical Strategies? (With Examples)

By Sky Ariella - Jul. 11, 2021
Skills Based Articles

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At some point in your life, you’ve probably been swayed by a speaker or writer’s message. Whether it be from your friend, professor, or supervisor, most are familiar with being persuaded in a professional, communicative way.

These persuasion skills indicate strong interpersonal abilities and leadership potential.

Many persuasive speakers, writers, and effective communicators use rhetorical strategies to drive their success.

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What Are Rhetorical Strategies?

Rhetorical strategies are the mechanisms used through wording during communication that encourage action or persuade others. These language devices can be used across written and spoken mediums to manage the listener’s views.

Rhetorical devices are often utilized during speeches. Motivational, political, and even educational speakers employ rhetoric to lead a group towards thinking a particular way or completing an action by emphasizing particular points in deliberate ways. Similarly, it’s a powerful argumentative tactic to employ during a debate.

Rhetoric is also used in a great deal of literature to further communicate with the reader. Rhetorical strategies can strengthen written communication and reader understanding. Persuasion doesn’t necessarily mean convincing someone to do something. It can mean using words to let the reader see a situation your way.

Traditionally, the rhetorical strategy combines three tenants that make for a compelling argument.

Persuasive strategies or rhetorical appeals include:

  • Logos

  • Ethos

  • Pathos

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What Is Logos?

The logos portion of persuasive strategies refers to enlisting logical reasoning in the fabric of your argument. This means using the process of determining facts and drawing evidence-based conclusions.

While logos is a powerful piece of persuading another party, be careful of over-generalizing one particular statistic to fit a broader scenario that may be unrealistic or getting too passionate. It can be difficult not to become heated in a debate when you’re arguing a point that you see as fact, but falling back on emotions too much can be counterproductive.

People are more comfortable with proof. If your stance, speech, or literature can provide logic and evidence, your audience will respond more positively.

Logos involves both inductive and deductive reasoning:

  • Inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is a way of coming to broad conclusions based on specific observations and experiences. For example, “The plants in the south window thrive more than those in the north window — that species of plant must prefer southern light.”

    As a rhetorical strategy, inductive reasoning is powerful for getting your listener to agree with your way of thinking about a broader topic. Of course, you have to be careful not to make quick leaps from a handful of examples to bold, sweeping claims, or your listeners are likely to become suspicious.

  • Deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is just like inductive reasoning but in reverse. In other words, you begin with a general truth, and from that you reason out more and more specific facts. For example, “This book says that this family of house plant prefers a lot of light, so I’ll put it in the brightest room in my house.”

    With deductive reasoning, it’s important that your opening truth is widely accepted by the audience, or they’ll have a tougher time following you to more specific arguments.

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What Is Ethos?

Ethos is your credibility to the listener or reader. No matter how factual or empathetic you’re being, if the other party doesn’t trust you or your delivery of the information, they aren’t going to be persuaded by your argument. Establishing your strong character to the audience is key in successful rhetoric.

Fostering the ethos quality in your argumentative style can be done in a few different ways, such as:

  • Using and citing reliable resources

  • Building rapport with the audience

  • Maintaining respect

  • Presenting organized and well-prepared information

  • Considering your tone and relationship with the audience

  • Giving information about your background and expertise

  • Accurately portraying contrary opinions

  • Establishing shared values and beliefs

It’s also important that you catch all grammatical errors and spelling mistakes in your written documents, as readers are exceptionally harsh at judging your authority based on your ability to do the little things correctly. This also goes for speeches, where stumbling over a phrase or mispronouncing a word can undercut the audience’s perception of you as an expert.

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What Is Pathos?

The final piece to the trifecta of persuasive strategies is pathos, which means engaging with the audience’s emotions. While you don’t want to be too emotional in conveying the logic of your stance, invoking emotions in the audience or acknowledging their values can be very helpful. People pay attention to a speaker or writer who they feel seen by and are more inclined to respond positively.

With this in mind, never use pathos and tap into an audience’s emotions to manipulate or distract from the issue. It should be a tactic used to further the truth of an agenda, not confuse the real message.

In academic and professional settings, you can also think of pathos as the reader or listener’s pre-disposition to the topic. In other words, if you know that the folks you’re presenting to have specific issues with the topic you’re covering, addressing those needs in your presentation appeals to the audience’s pathos.

Story-telling is also powerful for conveying the emotional appeal of your arguments. For example, a series of spreadsheets might have all the right numbers, but a single story about a customer who had a positive experience may be much more effective for persuading your audience toward a course of action.

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Commonly Used Rhetorical Strategies

Rhetorical strategies can be useful to anyone in their persuasive endeavors – whether you’re a supervisor in a large corporation looking for ways to communicate better with your team or a freshman year college student considering how to write a persuasive email to a professor. Understanding rhetorical devices can significantly improve your success in a debate, speech, or written communication.

Consider the following commonly used rhetorical strategies to further your persuasion abilities and overall communication:

  1. Similes. The purpose of using similes is to compare two things to establish a connection and bring your audience to a mutual understanding. This is a popular rhetorical strategy in literature and writing because it captures attention. It paints a more vivid picture of the concept you’re trying to outline.

    Examples of similes include:

    • He’s as busy as a bee

    • It’s as boring as watching paint dry

    • They fought like cats and dogs

  2. Metaphors. Many people get confused about the difference between similes and metaphors. Similes use a comparative word, such as “like” or “as.” Metaphors don’t include these words, which often soften an unordinary pairing. Metaphors are more direct and insist on the comparison as one and the same to invoke understanding in their audience.

    Examples of metaphors include:

    • She is a shining star

    • The office was a disaster area

    • Laughter is music for the soul

    “Reality is a cliché from which we escape by metaphor.” -Wallace Stevens

  3. Anadiplosis. Anadiplosis is a rhetorical tactic that implements specific uses of repetition between sentences to emphasize a point or word. It’s done by using the same word or phrase at the end of a sentence as you use to start the next sentence. It’s used to drive home a point, provoke an urgency to listen in the audience, and manipulate the listener’s perception of the topic.

    Examples of anadiplosis include:

    • Our primary goal is employee motivation. Motivation drives productivity and helps our company.

    • When we win, we win big time.

    • He has a problem. A problem with punctuality.

  4. Alliteration. Similar to anadiplosis, alliteration uses repetition to catch the attention of an audience. However, alliteration is more poetic and lyrical in its usage, making it ideal for written communication.

    It’s done by repeating a consonant sound throughout a sentence. Alliteration has a way of twisting sounds to make them sound more appealing or catchy and can often capture the receiver’s attention.

    Examples of alliteration include:

    • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers

    • Bed, Bath, and Beyond

    • Betsy bargained for a basket of blueberries

  5. Rhetorical questions. Allowing a question to hang in the air during a speech, written engagement, or simple conversation can positively impact your audience’s impression. Posing a rhetorical questions means asking a question without expecting or providing an answer in return, leaving the listener to ponder it on their own accord.

    People make decisions based on what someone else tells them to do a lot of the time. However, it’s much more powerful to supply a person with a question and let them draw their own conclusions.

    Of course, this tactic can only be successful if the audience comes to the same conclusion that you’re trying to lean them towards. To accommodate this fact, be sure to carefully consider the structure of a rhetorical question for directness before asking it of your audience.

    Examples of rhetorical questions include:

    • Is rain wet?

    • Who knows?

    • How many times do I have to tell you?

  6. Hypophora. Sometimes, inviting your audience to ponder a question before providing them with an answer can positively impact how they process this information. This rhetorical strategy is called hypophora.

    Unlike a rhetorical question, hypophora immediately responds to the question it poses. It gives the interaction, whether it be a speech to thousands of people or a discussion with a friend, a more conversational and open feel.

    Examples of hypophora include:

    • Why must we work so diligently? It’s because we have a lot to lose if we don’t.

    • Who is responsible for your success in college? You are the only one responsible.

    • Are deadlines being met adequately? Yes, and it is very encouraging for the future.

  7. Asterismos. This rhetorical device encourages audience attention by beginning a statement with a commanding word or phrase. It’s something that pulls the receiver in and makes them feel like it’s important to understand what the speaker has to say.

    Examples of asterismos include:

    • Look, we must put in extra hours if we’re going to finish this project.

    • Listen, employee satisfaction is crucial to a business’s success.

    • Hey, this lesson will be on the midterm.

  8. Personification. Personification is a strategy that’s similar to metaphor in that’s it’s a creative and eye-catching way of illustrating a point. However, personification specifically refers to assigning human characteristics to inhuman concepts.

    This rhetorical device will often be seen in written literature and poetry. It provides an innovative and interesting way of looking at a familiar idea.

    Examples of personification include:

    • The alarm clock screamed for the man to get out of bed

    • The trees whispered to the hikers

    • The words leaped off the page

  9. Procatalepsis. Many people may think that bringing up the receiver’s possible objections during a persuasive speech or essay can hurt your chances of swaying their opinion. However, exposing the negative perceptions an audience may have can actually be quite helpful in persuasion. It shows that you’ve considered an alternative point of view and have a response prepared.

    If you’re anticipating a gnawing concern of your audience, presenting it for discussion along with a solution can strengthen their confidence in what you have to say.

    Example of procatalepsis include:

    • Some may say that my stance on project assignment is too casual, but I believe it promotes independence in my staff.

    • I know what you’re going to say. The Yankees will never win the MLB World Series; however, their team shows more potential than in years prior.

    • You may ask how I know I’m the ideal employee for the position, and to that I say, I’m qualified, experienced, and, most important of all, extremely passionate about my work.

  10. Euphemism. When presenting a large group of people from varying backgrounds, some people may be more sensitive to certain harsh phrases or words. To avoid offending anyone they are trying to persuade, many speakers and writers will adopt euphemism to lighten the intensity of the subject matter or phrase. Euphemisms are used to maintain a tone and approach of politeness.

    Examples of euphemism include:

    • Dearly departed vs. Person who has died

    • Downsizing vs. Firing Employees

    • Over the hill vs. Approaching old age

Other Rhetorical Terms

There are plenty of other figures of speech that we use all the time, in normal conversation and in more formal rhetoric:

  • Anaphora. A rhetorical device where the speaker repeats a word or sequence of words in phrases. The most famous example of this is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s also used in a lot of popular music for creating catchy and memorable hooks. Anaphora can be used for equal effect in political, business, or academic discourse.

  • Hyperbole. Hyperbole is a figure of speech that involves making exaggerated claims for greater impact. For example, “I lost a boatload of money at my last poker game.”

  • Irony. Irony is a slippery rhetorical device to understand because it can be meant in a few different ways:

    • Verbal irony. You can pretty much think of this as sarcasm, although it’s slightly different. Verbal irony involves saying something but projecting the opposite meaning. So if someone lets the door close in your face and you say “thanks a lot,” that’s verbal irony. Or if you set the listener up for the opposite ending, like saying “my vacation was as enjoyable as getting my wisdom teeth taken out.”

    • Dramatic irony. When the audience knows something that the characters in a performance don’t know, that’s dramatic irony. This isn’t really used in persuasive arguments or rhetorical appeals.

    • Situataional irony. That Alanis Morisette song “Ironic” is all about situational irony (although not all the examples she gives are, strictly speaking, irony). A great historical example of this is Ronald Reagan’s assassin shooting his bullet-proof car, the bullet ricocheting and hitting the President. The fact that the car meant to protect the President played a role in getting him shot is ironic.

  • Oxymoron. When two words or phrases that seem contradictory appear together, it’s an oxymoron. This often works to humorous effect, like “old news” or “deafening silence.”

  • Allusion. A figure of speech in which you indirectly refer to another work, usually something very famous so the audience knows what you’re referring to. Things like “crossing the Rubicon” or “Achilles’ heel” are famous allusions that we use as rhetorical devices all the time.

  • Apostrophe. Apostrophe involves speaking to a person or group who is not actually present or speaking to a personified object.

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Author

Sky Ariella

Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

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